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Remembering Beat poet Gregory Corso at 70
Compiled by
Dana Cook

. . . a miscellany of encounters.

Outsider, bum, angel

A Village-born Italian, fresh out of Dannemora [State Prison] in his teens for armed robbery, Gregory Corso would sprawl on the grass in Washington Square kicking and screaming, "I got electricity in my bones! Electric currents are shooting out of my ass! I'm on fire! I got in-spir-a-shun!"...I would go through some soul-trying experiences with Gregory, who would remain all his life the poet as voyou, the outsider, bum and angel.

(Harold Norse, New York, late 1940s)

* * *

"Took him off"

     ...he [Allen Ginsberg] was now living with Gregory Corso. Corso wasn't Gregory the poet yet...but somehow another they hooked up and managed to find this place down on 15th Street....

     ...this was the fist time I met Gregory Corso. Gegory and I have never been good friends. I do admire him as a poet but we haven't really associated with each other all that much. Gregory's always sure that I'm going to try and take him off or something. This is probably because he left me sick on one occasion and he knew that he had it coming to him. Once, I did just that--deliberately I figured I might as well have the fun of it, and it came at a time when I needed the money anyway. We were both using [heroin] and this time I was straight and Gregory was sick. He couldn't score and I told him I knew of a guy over in the old Broadway Central Hotel down on Broadway at Bond Street with stuff and if he'd give me the money I'd cop for him. He was reluctant, naturally, but he was so sick he couldn't say much about it. He came along with me and when we got to the hotel I told him to stay put and I'd go up to score, he looked at me like I was going to take him off so I reassured him by telling him the room number and the guy's name and so on. Then he gave me the bread. Naturally, when I went inside, I split from another door. He had it coming, though he still might not think so.

(Herbert Huncke, New York, late 1940s)

* * * 

Shelley of the beats

     ...I renewed my college friendship with Allen Ginsberg, traveling with silent Peter Orlovsky, his spouse equivalent, and Gregory Corso, whom he praised with his customary generosity as the Shelley of the beat generation. During one café meeting the waiter made the mistake of putting the plate with the bill near Gregory. Before I could reach the check, Gregory slapped his hand over it. "I'm going to pay it! I'm going to pay it!" he cried.
     "Don't be silly," Allen said.
      "Allen! I've never paid a check before! I'm going to pay it!"
     Reproachfully Allen shook his head. Firmly Allen removed Gregory's soft fingers. Generously Allen handed me the check.
     In the normal evolution of beat-generation diplomacy, Gregory took a powerful dislike to me. He assured me that I would never know happiness in love because (he explained) my feet smelled.

(Herbert Gold, Paris, early 1950s)

* * *

Power to the poets

     Two of the funniest people in Paris in the early fifties were the poets Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg, who had founded the so-called "Beat Generation." They lived in a small hotel on the Left Bank--a hundred feet from the Seine.

     Corso and I used to sit at a café on the Place St-Michel. One day, for no apparent reason, Corso said, "Give us poets time and we'll wrest the power from the priests."
     "How do you get by?" I asked Gregory.
     "The foundations won't fund beat poets, so every time I meet a girl, I ask her how much money she has, and then I ask her for half. I'm not doing anything wrong with her money. I'm just using it to buy food."

(Art Buchwald, Paris, early 1950s)

* * *

"The black poet"

     "Can I have the bacon out of your BLT?"

     It seemed like cause for justifiable homicide, that question, which Gergory asked nearly every day. What was the point of a lettuce and tomato sandwich on toast--bereft of bacon? Lounging at the cafeteria steam table, lulled with postadolescent greed after hearing the pleasing yell to the kitchen--"B-L-T--down! Mayo!"--I would brace myself for Corso's punctual request: "Like can I have the bacon--"
     ...Both Corso and I were spending a summer at the Poets' Theater, near Harvard Square....


     Corso also had a walk-on (more of a spring-on) as a Jacobean madman in our production of Middleman and Rowley's The Changeling....


     One of our producers sometimes referred to Corso as "the black poet"--due to the blackness of his hair, his periodic scowl and his disdain for detergents, also his black garments. (Years afterward it was recalled that Corso wore Vietnamese guerilla clothes before we knew there were any: he did prefigure many things.)...

(Nora Sayre, Cambridge, Mass., mid-1950s)

* * *

How real artists should live

     Gregory Corso, the American Beat poet, liked to pose naked [for photographs] with a laurel clown as Bacchus. He woke up to each morning with a pistol shot. Once I spent a day and much of a night swinging on a 'dondola' while he explained to me how the real artist should live. It lasted until the moon went down....Gregory was eccentric and fond of violent gestures. I suppose Beat poets were supposed to be.

(Roloff Beny, Italy, early 1960s)

* * *


...I walk into my kitchen and spot Gregory Corso quickly hide something in his hand. I ask him what he's got. He sheepishly opens his palm to reveal a blank check from my checkbook and a photo of my sister, Cindy. He's stealing from me! "Wait," I say, "there's something I want to read to you." I return with a copy of his poem "Friends," one of my favorites, and I read it to him. When I finish the last line I tell him, "Now you may leave." The following day, he calls to apologize.

(Jennifer Lee, Hollywood, 1973)

* * *


Memoirs of a Bastard Angel, by Harold Norse (Morrow, 1989).

Guilty of Everything: The Autobiography of Herbert Huncke (Paragon House, 1990).

Bohemia: Digging the Roots of Cool, by Herbert Gold (Simon & Schuster, 1993).

I'll Always Have Paris, by Art Buchwald (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1996).

Previous Convictions: A Journey Through the 1950s, by Nora Sayre (Rutgers University Press, 1995).

Legends in Life and Art, by Roloff Beny (Douglas & McIntyre, 1995).

Tarnished Angel, by Jennifer Lee (Thunder's Mouth Press, 1991).

* * *

(Compiled by Dana Cook, a Toronto collector of literary encounters.)

Email: levans@interlog.com

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